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When a child’s world was a miniature stage, rather than a computer screen, a troop of puppets was the most treasured part of a toy arsenal.

Bob Pelham started manufacturing these ‘players’ in the 1930s and soon went public, establishing a factory in Marlborough and becoming the foremost puppet producer of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Since his death and the recent closure of the factory, there has been a critical and commercial re-evaluation of his puppets, with the result that Tortoise, a type SL prototype model dating from the early 1960s, attracted a record price for a Pelham puppet when it was offered at Bonhams & Brooks toy sale in Chelsea on July 10.

Tortoise may lack the feminine allure of other puppets, or the dynamic appeal of a Ninja Turtle, but he
is certainly an uncommon creature. When you consider that Macboozle, the drunken Scottish puppet that rolled off the production line in the hundreds of thousands, costs around £50-70 at auction these days, it is understandable that Tortoise should have whipped the audience at Bonhams into a frenzy of excitement, because fewer than 40 of these puppets were ever produced, either as prototypes or private orders.

Tortoise had replacement hands and was probably the most distressed of the 50 Pelham puppets entered by collector David Leech (a longtime employee of the Pelham factory) but rarity factor alone was enough to propel him to £1000 (plus 15 per cent premium and VAT).